Time to treat the climate and nature crisis as one indivisible global health emergency

Sam Hunt
Med J Aust 2023; 219 (8): 1.
Published online: 26 October 2023

The Medical Journal of Australia (MJA) has joined more than 200 health journals to urge the World Health Organization to declare the deadly climate change and nature crisis as a global health emergency.
The journals from across the world have come together to simultaneously publish an editorial calling on world leaders and health professionals to recognise that climate change and biodiversity loss are one indivisible crisis and must be tackled together to preserve health and avoid catastrophe.
Co-authored by MJA Editor-in-Chief, Professor Virginia Barbour, the editorial argues that it is a “dangerous mistake” to respond to the climate crisis and the nature crisis as if they were separate challenges.
The editorial is published in leading titles from around the world, including the MJA, The BMJ, The Lancet, JAMA, the East African Medical Journal, The National Medical Journal of India and the Dubai Medical Journal.
Commenting on the editorial, Professor Barbour said that Australia must join other countries in taking action into this pressing issue.
“The international academic community has spoken and it is clear that all governments must come together now to tackle the climate and nature crisis,” Professor Barbour said.
“Here in Australia, we are seeing the effects of the accelerating climate crisis first hand. As we head into the southern hemisphere summer, Australians are only too aware of the potential for catastrophic events. The good news is that we can influence what happens in the future, but this will only happen through joint international action, including by Australia.”
Human health is damaged directly by both the climate crisis and the nature crisis, with the poorest and most vulnerable communities often bearing the highest burden, the authors write.
Rising temperatures, extreme weather events, air pollution, and the spread of infectious diseases are some of the major health threats exacerbated by climate change.
For example, access to clean water is fundamental to human health, yet pollution has damaged water quality causing a rise in water-borne diseases, and ocean acidification has reduced the quality and quantity of seafood that billions of people rely on for food and their livelihoods.
Biodiversity loss also undermines good nutrition and constrains the discovery of new medicines derived from nature, while changes in land use have forced tens of thousands of species into closer contact, increasing the exchange of pathogens and the emergence of new diseases and pandemics.
Communities are healthier if they have access to high quality green spaces that help filter air pollution, reduce air and ground temperatures, and provide opportunities for physical activity.
Connecting with nature also reduces stress, loneliness and depression while promoting social interaction — benefits that are threatened by the continuing rise in urbanisation. For Indigenous people, caring for and connecting with nature is especially important for their health. 

  • Sam Hunt



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